Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Review: Good Bones And Simple Murders – Margaret Atwood

Good Bones And Simple Murders – Margaret Atwood

In this collection of short works that defy easy categorization, Margaret Atwood displays, in condensed and crystallized form, the trademark wit and virtuosity of her best-selling novels, brilliant stories, and insightful poetry. Among the jewels gathered here are Gertrude offering Hamlet a piece of her mind, the real truth about the Little Red Hen, a reincarnated bat explaining how Bram Stoker got "Dracula" all wrong, and the five methods of making a man. There are parables, monologues, prose poems, condensed science fiction, reconfigured fairy tales, and other miniature masterpieces—punctuated with charming illustrations by the author.

Review: The synopsis of this book isn’t wrong when it says that these stories are hard to categorize. I mean, what even are these things? I guess I’d call them flash fiction or prose poetry. Each story/poem/essay/dialogue thing is only a few pages long. They cover a variety of genres, from realism to magical realism to fairytales to sci-fi. Most of them have a strong feminist slant. Some are abstract; some are straightforward. Some are accompanied by Margaret Atwood’s weird artwork. They’re all beautifully written. I guess there’s a “thing” for everyone in here.

Here are my favorites:

In “Murder in the Dark,” the narrator (or author?) explains how she is going to manipulate the reader in this book. The reader shouldn’t believe anything she says. This is an attention-grabbing way to start the collection. It sets the dark, weird tone.

“Just remember this, when the scream at last has ended and you've turned on the lights: by the rules of the game, I must always lie.” – Good Bones and Simple Murders

“There Once Was” is a dialogue between two anonymous characters who are trying to rewrite a fairytale in a politically correct way. They get nowhere with their story and eventually give up. It’s funny.

“There once was a girl, as average-looking as she was well-adjusted, who lived with her stepmother, who was not a very open and loving person because she herself had been abused in childhood.” – Good Bones and Simple Murders

“Stump Hunting” tells you what to do if you catch a tree stump while fishing and decide to eat it. It’s very useful information. I guess. If you like eating stumps.

Another story that gives useful information is “Making A Man.” It tells you the five different ways to make a man, including out of gingerbread or as folk art.

“Let Us Now Praise Stupid Women” is an ode to all the stupid female characters in stories. As always, Atwood’s social commentary is on-point. The best-known stories in Western culture do contain a lot of women who make terrible choices.

Let us now praise stupid women, who have given us Literature.” – Good Bones and Simple Murders

“Simmering” shows what the world would be like if every man suddenly became very interested in cooking. Knives are status symbols and there are special handshakes involved. This is a funny piece of social satire. It’s also my favorite story in the collection.

Do you like choose your own adventure stories? I do. With “Happy Endings,” you can choose to give the couple a happily ever after. Or not.

In “Cold-Blooded,” moth-like aliens come to Earth and are baffled by humans. The aliens think moths are clearly the superior species. Sometimes, I agree with them . . .

Finally, there’s “Poppies: Three Variations.” This is like a writing exercise you’d do in school, but when Atwood does something, it’s not an exercise. It’s art. This story takes the words from the poem “In Flanders Fields” by John McCrae and uses them to create three distinct flash fiction stories. It’s hard to describe, but it works brilliantly. Most writers probably wouldn’t be talented enough to pull it off.

This collection reminded me why I fell in love with Margaret Atwood’s writing as a teen. It’s quirky, hilarious, and points out the absurdities in the world.

My only complaint is that some of the stories/poems/things are too abstract for my tastes. I don’t like abstract writing because I’m never sure what I’m supposed to get out of it. If I’m going to read something, I want more than just pretty language. I want a plot, characters, or a clear subject. Luckily for me, most of the things in this book aren’t too abstract. This is one of the best collections I’ve read this year.

If you’re a Margaret Atwood fan, then you need to read Good Bones and Simple Murders. This book should also be required reading for all wannabe writers. Atwood is one of those authors who always know how to choose the perfect word. She can say a lot in very little space. The things in this book are tight, clever little pieces of  . . . something.  

1 comment:

  1. Oh this sound perfect for this month!
    I haven't read any of her books before so this is perfect.
    The cover is really appealing, and that never hurts,
    I agree with you, I don't really enjoy abstract writing. It's just confusing and makes me feel dumb when I don't get it.
    If I get to take a trip to the bookstore soon, I will be picking this one up.
    Now excuse me I haven't got to read your blog in while, so expect lots of comments from me lol!
    Ashley @ Books To The Tea